Countries visited: 26
Countries with English as an official language: 6 (United States, Ireland, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Fiji, and New Zealand)
Borders crossed: 31 (15 by air, 7 by train, 4 by bus, 4 by car, and 3 by water)
Nights spent in transit: 8
Buses (not counting local buses): 35
Boats and ferries: 23
Scooter crashes: 2
Countries where we drove on the left: 5 (Ireland, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Thailand, and New Zealand; Japan, India, and Malaysia also drive on the left but we didn’t drive there)
Forms of transport: 24 (camels, auto-rickshaws, bicycle rickshaw, songthaews, tuk-tuks, scooters, motorcycles, vans, moto taxis, trains, ferries, speedboats, longtail boat, row boat, slow boat, metro/subway, streetcar, cars, pick-up trucks, auto-taxis, river/canal taxi, cable car, funicular, houseboat)
UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 42
Photos taken: 31,467 (an average of 77 a day taking up 450 gigs of storage!)
Addictions to delicious Cadbury candy bars not available at home: 3 (Moro in Ireland/Northern Ireland; Tempo in South Africa; and Moro Gold in New Zealand)
Days where it rained: 105
Overall percentage of time spent in rain: 25%
Countries with squat toilets: 8 (South Korea, Japan, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia)
Times when Amy got really sick: 4 (stomach ailments in Morocco; South Korea; Laos; Vietnam)
Times when Sean got really sick: 5 (stomach ailments in Morocco; South Korea; Thailand; India; Vietnam)
Number of hospital visits: 2 (both Sean for the same bacterial infection, including a two night stay)
Number of mosquitoes bites: impossible to count (There were times where Amy would have 30+ on one limb alone, despite using bug spray!)
Number of “Thai tattoos”: 1 (Okay, it actually happened in Vietnam. And it’s not a real tattoo. Just a nasty burn from a scorching hot moto-taxi exhaust pipe.)
Different beers drank: 127
Books read by Amy: 58
Books read by Sean: 2. (At least 2 others were started but not finished.)
Number of times we heard You Can Call Me Al: 4
Cheapest accommodation: $6.61 in Chiang Khong, Thailand
Most expensive accommodation: $146.43 – a 50 square foot room in New York City on our very first night
Cheapest activity: $0.48 admission fee per person to the Hanoi Hilton
Most expensive activity: $175.50 per person to scuba dive in Kauai, Hawaii
Cheapest dinner: $1.95 for dinner for two in Vietnam
Most expensive dinner: $143.35 for dinner for two in Kobe, Japan
Sean’s cheapest haircut: $3.33 in Saigon, Vietnam
Sean’s most expensive haircut: $34.58 in Paris, France
After one night in rainy, rainy Wellington, we hightailed it over to the east coast. Hawke’s Bay, and especially Napier, seemed like a really cool area. But it was really hard to tell. It rained the entire, and I mean entire, two days we were there. The rain makes for great waterfalls, but ruined any opportunities for us to check out Napier’s Art Deco architecture. In 1931, Napier was leveled by an earthquake. The city used the opportunity to build itself back up in the in vogue style at the time. Good thing our real reason to go to Napier was to meet up with our German friends Rod and Lizzy, who were at the tail end of their three month campervan journey around New Zealand. Also even better thing we left when we did; Hawke’s Bay experienced severe flooding shortly after we left. Mother Nature just keeps kicking New Zealand while it’s down.
Between our time in Nelson and Marlborough, we were starting to feel like lushes. These regions are heaven for beer and wine afficianados. Marlborough produces world-renowned sauvignon blanc wine, which, with its aromatic scent, crisp, clean taste and fruity notes is my favorite type of wine. While we were there, it was rainy and foggy – of course – but the fall scenery is gorgeous. I didn’t realize that leaves on the grape vines turned fall colors, so the golden hues were a pleasant surprise.
We learned the hard way during our South African wine tasting experience that maybe driving ourselves to the wineries is not the best idea, so we signed up for a wine tour. Basically a glorified DD (or at least the one we took), a driver takes you and others around to local wineries in a minivan. Like South Africa, the tastings are free. We visited six wineries: Cloudy Bay (good but expensive), Vavasour (pretty good), Spy Valley (also good, one of the last locally owned wineries in the area), Grove Mill (meh, too sweet), Highfield (good views) and Bouldevines (who knows by then?!?!)
I suppose I have to disclose that somewhere around the fifth winery, I made a complete ass out of myself. I was sitting next to Sean in the minivan’s first row of seats, which was next to a large open space by the door. I used to be an automatic seatbelt buckler, but months of none-existent seatbelts in Asia broke that habit. As the van rounded a bend rather sharply, I completely flew out of my seat and landed, hard, on my butt on the floor. I could hear the American and British girls who we’d been chatting with all afternoon stifle a laugh in the row behind us, and the Aussies in the way back let out a giggle. Sean tried to contain his laughter, but he didn’t do a very good job. After that, I felt like I should cool it on the tastings; I wasn’t anything more than a little tipsy but I didn’t want to feel any judgemental eyes labelling me as that girl on the wine tour.
The tour ends with a stop at the handmade Makana Chocolate Factory – a rather perfect way to end. We picked up some chocolate Easter eggs to go along with our newly acquired bottles of Sauvignon Blanc from Vavasour and Spy Valley for further tasting and evaluating.
Nelson lies on the central northern coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It is supposed to be the sunniest place in all of New Zealand. And it was for our first day, providing the perfect backdrop to relaxing next to our campervan, drinking our newly acquired limited edition Sprig & Fern Harvest Pilsner and chopping up fresh veggies from Nelson’s Wednesday farmers market for salsa. Day two, the rain started (and pretty much didn’t let up for the rest of our days in New Zealand, save for a brief reprieve in Rotorua). Good thing Nelson is a quaint little town with historic old buildings housing shops and cafes. And furthermore that it lies in a hop growing region and has a thriving craft beer culture (like at the Free House, above. Craft beer in a church – we Pittsburghers can get on board with that). We forgave Nelson for its transgression in raining on us in the sunniest part of New Zealand.
By the way, if you are ever in New Zealand and you’re thirsty, you may want to check out some of the more notable beers we tried. It’s a hard job vetting beers but someone’s got to do it. New Zealand excels in hoppy pilsners and pales ales. We really liked Sprig & Fern’s Harvest Pilsner (from Nelson, see below); Harrington’s the Rogue Hop Organic Pilsner (from Christchurch, recommended by a neighbor Ohioan now living in Motueka); Emerson Organic Pilsner (from Dunedin); Townsend Old House ESB on cask (from Upper Moutere, near Nelson); and the Moa range of beers (from Marlborough).
Dunedin is a little big city on the South Island’s east coast. Home to New Zealand’s largest university, it has a definite college town feel. Maybe because of the couches plunked on the front porches next to empty beer cans? Or maybe because it is full of young people and energy and architecture befitting a university next to stately trees. Whatever it is, Dunedin seems like a cool place to go to school. The town radiates out from the center octagon, filled with trendy shops and a Cadbury chocolate plant. There’s parks and hiking trails right within city limits, and if you go to the outskirts, you find a coastal road snaking out on the Otago Peninsula that is beautiful whether you take the high or low road. My favorite part of Dunedin was its happening little Saturday farmer’s market, located in the parking lot next to its stately train station. Fall (which apparently is an American word, I’m told) in April means you get apples next to hot cross buns. We filled our campervan’s tiny cupboards and fridge to the brim with sweet Pacific Beauty apples, juicy pears, crisp cucumbers, fresh sourdough bread, free range eggs, organic garlic, berry farm jam, crisp lettuce greens, and many more tasty treats (including a real honest to goodness chocolately brownie, a fair trade organic long black espresso drink, and savory pies that may have gotten stuffed into our pieholes before we even hit the road).